Time Management in the Age of COVID17 Nov 2020
In a bit of a break from everything else that’s going on, I thought I would document (mostly for myself, but, hey, maybe it’s useful to someone else) how I manage my time/workload.
I’ve always had a pretty rigorous process that I try to adhere to, so that I can keep a number of plates spinning at once. During this new COVID reality, I’ve worked hard to adhere to my process and tools, as sitting just feet away form my computer (or with my iPad/iPhone) could lead to simply filling up every available minute with work.
Mostly, my life is run out of two inboxes. Mail and OmniFocus.
Much of my work comes in via email. Questions to answer, work to do or delegate, etc. There’s a lot that flows through here. I try to optimize this in a few ways:
- I keep my inbox lean and mean because I’m ruthless about what shows up there. If it’s stuff I need, but never need to read, it gets filtered via a series of rules, and marked as read. For me, unread messages are a mental tax. I’ve got a reasonable amount of rules. This is a place that running mail through something like Google (GSuite or GMail) is nice. Those rules run server side, and mail is taken care of. If I never to need to read it, it gets unsubscribed, or gets filtered and deleted. If I start getting a new type of message frequently enough, I’ll flag it in OmniFocus to build a rule about it later.
- Then, what hits my inbox, is mostly stuff I need to deal with. I try to follow the “4Ds of Time Management”. Do it now (it’s fast an easy), Delegate it (it’s someone else’s work), Defer it (I don’t need to do anything with this yet), or Delete it (I don’t need it at all). Do and Delete are pretty obvious. Defer involves me adding the message into OmniFocus, and then archiving it, using the OmniFocus Mail Clipper to send it to OmniFocus, and set the defer/due dates to come back to it. 1Delegate is also something I use OmniFocus for, in the same way. I ship the mail into OmniFocus, and update it to know that I’ve assigned it to someone else, and with a date to follow up on it. Then, I forward that mail (or stick a task in Jira, etc.) to handle the actual delegation.
- What’s left in my inbox is things that fall in the “I just want to do them, but haven’t had the time or energy yet” category. Most people would say “well, then you should defer them”, but that is an extra mental tax that I don’t want to deal with. So they stick around my inbox for a day or two. Maybe even longer. As soon as my inbox gets to more than maybe 10 messages, I get ruthless about pruning it back. These “messages I should do, just haven’t done yet” are the first ones to get culled.
These steps keep my inbox (and my unread message count) in the single digits (or, occasionally, empty), which for me, is a wonderful little place to be.
However, that does mean that lots of stuff ends up in my next inbox.
I swear by OmniFocus. I pay a lot of money every time there’s an upgrade, so I can run it on every device. Even if it’s not perfect, and there’s little UX things I’d like to change, it still is far more valuable to me than almost any other tool. Why?
Basically, it just lets me dump everything from my brain, my email, Slack, whatever, into a place where I can build little views that surface what matters to me.
There are a lot of ways to manage your life in OmniFocus. You can go down the rabbit hole with fiddly little bits. I try to limit that to occasional bursts of fiddliness. Mostly, I use a couple of views:
- Forecast view show me in a week/month glance, what is due. I go back and forth on using due dates. I mostly have come to agree with the viewpoint that due dates are for things that are really due, and everything else should just be available for you to pull when desired. I’ve taken to working that way, but I add due dates to things like checking in or following up, so that I don’t forget to do those.
- I have a couple of Perspectives I use. One, a Today view, is pretty simple: what is due today, what is flagged, and what have I tagged to focus on. The last bit there is a recent addition and has helped me. Every morning(ish), I go through my work projects, look to see if anything should get tagged to focus on, and if so, I tag it. Pretty simple. My other perspective is a view of work I’ve delegated out to people who work for me. What needs following up, what is due by someone else, etc. I check this every morning (and, again, may tag something so it’s on my Today view), and also check it out whenever I’ve got a meeting with someone.
More or less, that’s it. Those are the big rules. Everything else is little things I do to make my life easier, but those are the big rocks that I don’t change that frequently, and it’s how I keep all my plates spinning.
There’s probably one other, minor, inbox for me …
Work pops up in Slack. Generally, I follow the same rules. The “defer” option though, is I’ll flag it as a Saved Item. If it’s Saved, and has been there for more than a couple of days, I’ll move it into OmniFocus. If it’s Saved, because I need to store the info, it goes into something like Notes.
Those are the processes/tools I use to keep my life afloat. I mostly talked about work, but personal tasks also follow these same rules. So I can just run my life off of my laptop, or my phone, or my iPad, whatever tool I happen to have in front of me. And I don’t worry about missing something, because I can quickly drop it into OmniFocus (I’m starting to play around with Drafts for quick capture, but I’m not all the way there yet).
It does give me comfort to know that, mostly, if stuff matters, I’ve got it captured somewhere.
I think I use this more than anything. I ship emails into OmniFocus at least a few times a day. ↩